‘It’s just fucking advertising’: Natalie Marsan on giving up the NYC grind for travel, work and family

Natalie Marsan has managed to do what was once the impossible: raise a baby, hold down a London-based job while living in Croatia, and travel – constantly. But less than three years ago she was buried deep in New York’s marketing scene. In the latest episode of Why I Left Advertising, Marsan explains why and how she became a nomadic working mother.

Marsan currently works as an account director at The Social Element, where she leads her team from her two homes in Croatia’s Zagreb and Zadar. In between commuting to London for meetings, she travels throughout the world seeing friends and new places with her husband and toddler; this year alone the Marsans have visited Morocco, Denmark, Austria and the US.

“We travel because of a basic sense of wanderlust that is just insatiable,” she said. “I call our approach to life ‘wabi sabi’. I haven’t thrown an anchor down – I don’t want to throw an anchor down – and I think we’ll always be a bit nomadic in the way we live.

"For now, we like the impermanence of living where it feels right.”

It hasn’t always been this way for Marsan, who once worked in the heart of New York’s advertising scene at the likes of Razorfish and VaynerMedia. It was a busy time, but not necessarily a fraught one; she recalls a “fast, fun” agency culture that “takes over your life a little bit” but involves “a lot of drinks and dinners with colleagues and clients”.

“New York changed a lot,” she said. “In the late 90s when I moved there it was a city for artists and freaks … it wasn’t the big money city, the big city that it is now. I kind of grew out of New York a bit in that it got too hectic for me. I wanted just an easy and relaxed vibe … and I realised I didn’t want to raise a child in that dense, urban place.”

Luckily Marsan and her husband have dual citizenship, so a move to Croatia was an easy one to make. But she never envisioned working in an agency once she’d left, and instead imagined her family would live as entrepreneurs in that Mediterranean country without an established ad scene.

The Social Element, however, eventually tracked her down and offered her a contract that would epitomise out of office working. Still though – with a new family and a new continent on her doorstep – why did she go back?

“One of my former chief executives used to say: ‘Guys, we’re not saving lives here, this is just fucking advertising, so just chill out’,” Marsan explained. “That was exactly my sentiment of how I felt in advertising. I just wanted to move back into a world where I was finding a problem and solving it.

“Working in social media right now really does have that aspect of helping brands be more real. There’s enough of a cause-like element to working with brands on social media that I’m okay with for now.”

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Katie Deighton

Katie Deighton is The Drum’s senior reporter - creative and video based in London. She produces, films, presents and edits the title’s editorial video output, including series such as On The Scene, Ad Breakers and Why I Left Advertising, and manages its coverage of the creative sector. She also reports on the intersection between politics and marketing, as well as the third sector and fashion.

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